In the all too common experience of losing

In C. K. Williams’ “Grief,” the speaker explores the all too common
experience of losing a loved one. The speaker describes the pain involved in
sitting helplessly by, only able to watch, while another human being slowly
withdraws into death. The poem “Grief,” like many of C.K. Williams’
poems, is a maelstrom of memories, thoughts, emotions, and other human
experiences. In this particular poem, the speaker is torn by the slow death of
his elderly mother. His attempts to console himself and his family leads him to
believe that she has lived a full life, and is now released from her suffering,
headed toward a place of serenity and repose. How does this phrase “peace
of the earth,” (32) suggest a release from the suffering of dying? In the
poem entitled “Grief,” by C. K. Williams, the reader is taken through
one man’s painful experience of watching his mother’s slow death. Williams is
renowned for his ability to capture the emotions and concepts of the human
spirit. Perhaps The Boston Globe’s critic, Jonathan Aaron, put it best in his
review, stating: A matchless explorer of the burdens of consciousness, C. K.

Williams has always written brilliantly about human pain, that which we inflict
upon others and upon ourselves, and that which we experience in dreading what
we’re fated for. Williams does not dispute that death is not a natural thing, in
fact it is something that we are all “fated for”, however he attempts
to illustrate the pain and human emotion that are associated with death. In the
poem “Grief,” Williams is also successful in demonstrating the
transition from the anguish experienced while a loved one withdraws into death,
to the eventual rest the deceased enter. The phrase “peace of the
earth” is suggestive of the body’s final resting place, in which the soul
is liberated from the body in death, and the individual experiences a release
from suffering. Throughout the poem, the speaker attempts to identify and
understand exactly what grief is. His mother’s suffering torments him, and when
she finally comes to death she enters the peace of the earth. The word peace
means a state of tranquillity of quiet. A state of such tranquillity and quiet,
like that which is associated with death. When one is dead, it is believed that
the body is laid to rest and the soul is freed to a state of tranquillity. The
word peace also refers to a relief from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or
emotions, and harmony in personal relations. These meanings can be applied in
two very differing situations. On the one hand, it is the deceased mother who
comes to experience peace through death, however, on the other hand the son too
undergoes a sense of peace or calming sense of mind after his mother’s suffering
has ended. In this poem, Williams also focuses on the symbolism of life and
death in association with the word earth. In reality, the word earth denotes
soil. Yet In all practicality, this reference to the soil in which the dead are
interred has, however, a more symbolic meaning — the sphere of mortal life. The
mind frame that Williams sets is one where the earth is a mortal world in which
physical suffering exists and the body is unprotected against it. Eventually the
body gives way to death, and the final outcome of the “mortal earth”
is a death that delivers us from suffering into peace. Many religions identify
earth with the human body and its origin. The word earth also literally means
the mortal human body, and in faiths such as the Christian tradition, man is
believed to have been borne of ashes earth, and to ashes he will return. Thus
is Williams’ argument that death’s inevitability has caused the grieving process
to become such a normality that we are often unsure as to whether we even
experience it. Other figurative language used in this poem that can be directly
correlated to Williams’ depiction and identification of grief, is the phrase
“countenance of loss” (32). These words are portray the demeanor of
has suffered the loss of another, and undergone the grieving process. The
countenance, or mental composure, is one of suffering and anguish which results
from the loss of the loved one. Death’s natural occurrence is one that affects
us all. Whether its influence is felt personally, or through the suffering of
others, the greatest endurance against death’s melancholy is the cleansing
process of grieving.

Aaron, Jonathan, review of The Vigil, by C.K. Williams, The Boston Globe.

Williams, C. K. “Grief.” In The Vigil, 29-32. New York: The Noonday
Press, 1998.

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